UMKC’s archives are home to an extensive collection of rare jazz
Jan Evensmo doesn’t make it to Kansas City very often. So when he does, the Oslo, Norway, native spends his time wisely. He meets old friends. He eats great steak. Then he visits the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Marr Sound Archives.
“Whenever we have out-of-town visitors, they make a beeline over here if they’re jazz fans,” Chuck Haddix, director of the archives, said. “This kind of collection just isn’t available anyplace else, really.”
As Haddix speaks, he gestures toward the archives, where more than 300,000 sound recordings of everything from jazz to opera, and commentary to vintage radio, are housed. The recordings – which vary in formats from LPs, 78s, 45s, to open-reel tapes, and more – are stacked in high, tightly packed shelves.
For a jazz lover like Evensmo, it’s heaven. For almost anyone else, it’s enough to bring on claustrophobia.
A retired professor at the Norwegian Business School, Evensmo talks about jazz the way most people talk about their first love. His voice is marked by a slight accent, and an almost sing-song rhythm.
“It goes directly to my heart,” Evensmo said, smiling. “Not everybody cares for jazz, but I fell for it when I was a teenager, and it became my lifelong hobby.”
Although the Marr Sound Archives is home to a variety of recordings, its strength, unquestionably, is jazz. But the collection isn’t filled with just big names. If it was, Evensmo wouldn’t be here. Neither would the countless other international researchers who rely on the Marr Sound Archives.
Instead, Evensmo comes to the Marr Sound Archives in search of the obscure. His searches are fueled by a desire to make jazz history more complete. Years ago, Evensmo noticed that jazz discographies were relatively commonplace. What he couldn’t find, though, was a solography — a document that notes, and comments on, all of the solos in a given musician’s career. That absence concerned Evensmo. So he decided to fill the void.
For many years, Evensmo’s solographies were published as books. Now all of his work is on his website,www.jazzarcheology.com.
“I am digging out rare stuff, buried down somewhere, taking it out and making it shine,” Evensmo said.
Generally, when Evensmo picks a musician for a solography, he first searches his own collection for relevant music. If he doesn’t have everything that he needs, he turns to the collections of his Norwegian friends. Then his Swedish friends. Then his other European friends. If, after casting a net that wide, Evensmo still can’t find all the recordings he needs, he comes here.
Evensmo’s late September visit marked his second trip to the Marr Sound Archives. Although he often comes in search of specific recordings, experience has taught him to keep an open mind.
“There’s always some stuff you don’t look for because you don’t know it exists,” Evensmo said.
A case in point: Last year Haddix, whose deep voice is recognizable to fans of his KCUR-FM show, Fish Fry, introduced Evensmo to a rare set of 1930’s European jazz records. Rare might even be an understatement. Many European records – jazz included – were destroyed during World War II. The Marr Sound Archives has an impressive collection, though, thanks in part to an American soldier who was stationed in France during the war. He was an avid music lover, so when he saw a French record store set on fire, he ran in to save as many albums as he could.
When it was time to come home to Kansas City, the man left his clothes and personal belongings in Europe. He wanted more space in his suitcase for the albums. When he died, he left the collection to the Marr Sound Archives.
But it’s not all about the music. Also located in the Miller Nichols Library is the LaBudde Special Collections. There, researchers like Evensmo can find photos of artists, old performance fliers, and written histories.
“The collections complement each other,” Haddix said.
Over time, Evensmo’s website has grown significantly. The site now hosts dozens of solographies, but Evensmo doesn’t have any plans of stopping. There’s still more to find, and much of it is located at UMKC.
“There are so many good jazz musicians. I can keep doing this forever,” Evensmo said.